Joseph Fiennes Says Playing Michael Jackson Was the ‘Wrong Decision’ and a ‘Bad Mistake’: ‘I Asked the Broadcaster to Pull It’

Joseph Fiennes expressed regret to The Observer over his decision to play Michael Jackson in a pulled 2017 episode of Sky Arts’ anthology series “Urban Myths.” The episode centered on Jackson taking a post-9/11 road trip with Marlon Brando (Brian Cox) and Elizabeth Taylor (Stockard Channing). Fiennes’ casting as the music icon generated whitewashing backlash, and the episode’s trailer ignited outrage over Fiennes’ lighter skin tone and prosthetic nose to play Jackson.

“I think people are absolutely right to be upset,” Fiennes said. “And it was a wrong decision. Absolutely. And I’m one part of that — there are producers, broadcasters, writers, directors, all involved in these decisions. But obviously if I’m upfront, I have become the voice for other people. I would love them to be around the table as well to talk about it. But you know, it came at a time where there was a movement and a shift and that was good, and it was, you know, a bad call. A bad mistake.”

Sky pulled the episode before its intended broadcast. The company said in a statement at the time: “We have taken the decision not to broadcast ‘Elizabeth, Michael and Marlon,’ a half-hour episode from the Sky Arts ‘Urban Myths’ series, in light of the concerns expressed by Michael Jackson’s immediate family. We set out to take a lighthearted look at reportedly true events and never intended to cause any offense.”

Amid the controversy, Jackson’s daughter, Paris Jackson, tweeted about the episode: “It honestly makes me want to vomit.”

“And, just to say, I asked the broadcaster to pull it,” Fiennes now told The Observer. “And there were some pretty hefty discussions, but ultimately people made the right choice.”

Fiennes originally defended his casting, saying Jackson “definitely had an issue–a pigmentation issue–and that’s something I do believe. He was probably closer to my color than his original color.”

Elsewhere in his Observer interview, Fiennes revealed he rejected a five-picture deal from Miramax after he was bullied by the studio’s founder Harvey Weinstein. The disgraced film producer and convicted rapist demanded Fiennes accept the deal or risk having his career derailed by Weinstein.

“It was a bullying tactic that didn’t sit well,” Fiennes said. “The way he explained it was a shock to me. But I suddenly sat in the room very present, and happy and strong in myself to say, you know what, I’m not beholden to that. I’m stepping away.”

Did turning Weinstein down hurt his career? “I don’t think it helped me,” he said. “Hurt? No, maybe not hurt. But he made it clear that he won’t support me. He’ll make a very strong movement not to support me. I was out of the family. But I was very happy not to be in the family.”

Fiennes most recently appeared opposite Jennifer Lopez in the Netflix action movie “The Mother,” which has since become one of the streamer’s most-watched English-language movies of all time.

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